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Reports of 90m Tonga tsunami wave rejected

A seismologist has rejected media reports that a tsunami from the volcanic eruptions in January could have been taller than the 93 meter Statue of Liberty.

Tonga Geological Services seismologist Mafoa Penisoni said the reports were based on assumptions from data that was not current.

Mr Penisoni has been in talks with a team from Japan’s Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development and The University of the South Pacific Tonga Campus to negotiate their participation in ongoing research on volcanic eruptions.

He confirmed that Japanese research found that while the wave wasn’t the height that has been speculated, the eruption was over 90 meters above sea level.

A team from the Japan International Cooperation Agency's Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development recently visited The University of the South Pacific Tonga Campus. Picture: USP
A team from the Japan International Cooperation Agency’s Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development recently visited The University of the South Pacific Tonga Campus. Picture: USP

It has now been more than eight months and Tonga is still picking up the pieces of the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano eruption and there is a call to expedite the preparedness capacity and resources in countering similar events in the future.

Volcanologist Professor Mie Ichihara from The Earthquake Research Institute of the University of Tokyo said the large eruption was rare but the region must, “build on our capacity to monitor the events of the disaster.”

According to USP news online a team from Japan will travel to Fiji and Vanuatu to complete negotiations for the research project before developing a MOU. Any project is expected to start in 2023 and run for five years from 2023 to 2028.

Aerial image of the Hunga Tonga Hunga Haiapai Caldera. Picture: Tonga Geological Services Facebook
Aerial image of the Hunga Tonga Hunga Haiapai Caldera. Picture: Tonga Geological Services Facebook

“They (the Japanese team) are also here to introduce the build back better policy, which is an integral part of planning for disaster resilience in Japan,” Mr Penisoni said.

Tonga has started installing the seismic monitoring system, which is used to determine the location, origin, time, magnitude and other characteristics of earthquakes.

Mr Penisoni said geologically Tonga sits at the junction of two tectonic plates, the Pacific Indo-Australian plate and the Pacific Plate which pose a high risk area and also due to the fact that the islands are mostly made up of corals and volcano.

He also confirmed that they are monitoring smoke from the remote volcanic island of Tofua.

Drone image of the tsunami aftermath from the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai eruption taken on 16 January 2022. Image shows ashfall in Nuku’alofa. Picture: Tonga Geological Services

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